In the end, everyone died no matter what they did, be it an injury, starvation, Raiders, or the light.
The dog upstairs had been barking for several minutes. Warning. John Piscus stood motionless in the dark basement, unable to pierce the darkness.
He cursed and clawed at the burning sensation the scars on his arm had left after the nightmare. He brought the creased photograph to his lips and kissed it. “I’ll see you soon, Baby Bear,” he whispered. “You too, honey. I’ll be ready for your judgement in the afterlife.” He put it in his pocket and brought the lighter out. His hand was shaking and was slick with sweat. “Maybe even tonight. But not without a fight first.” He nodded his head a fraction and steadied his shaking hand. “Not without a fight.” He flipped the lighter’s lid open.
He didn’t want to die, but if he were to meet death tonight, he would take as many Raiders with him.
The derelict house groaned and creaked as it settled its beams and walls in a more comfortable position against the wind, and just like it, the visage of John’s family drained away, the soporific effect dissipating.
The dog continued barking. Raiders, no doubt. They were cowards, but savage nonetheless. They’d leave him alone once they realized he was carrying light. And if they risked to call his bluff … He patted his knife. He would not go down so easily.
Sweat stung his eye. He blinked it away and tried in vain to put some moisture at the back of his throat. The dog fell silent. What was happening up there? He should risk the world above, risk asking Robert for help. If the dog chased someone away, then it must be night outside, as safe a time as it could ever get for a survivor.
You know, you could always starve to death, the condemning and strident male voice in his head said. It may not be as grand or as satisfying as seeing you torn to shreds, but it’ll do.
Be the man you’ve always been. Whatever it takes, Johnny. Don’t give up, the wheezy and almost phlegmy man’s voice rattled in his brain.
John scoffed and cursed at his madness. The voices would leave him alone once he died. That was something to look forward to.
He followed the memorized path leading to the staircase and the world above. One, two, three steps forward, then two steps right, and then straight until the wooden beam. From there, six steps to the bottom of the staircase.
His hand brushed against the cool brick wall, and a critter, a roach or a maggot, perhaps, made its way up his arm. He flicked it away.
He snatched after it. What would he eat if he found no food? Where did it go? He fell on his knees, frantically clapped the floor with his hands left and right. He could almost hear it, almost see it from within the shadows mocking and taunting him, wiggling its antennae at him, a sign of superiority not only for the dark basement but for the world above.
It crawled near his slosh bucket, tiny feet scraping the floor, and that put an end to his hunt. There were limits John was unwilling to cross. For the time being, at least.
Don’t blame them, the condemning voice said. People like you were the true pests on this planet.
Damn voices. “Leave me alone.”
He climbed the stairs carefully with the flameless lighter held before him, until his other hand traced the wooden door. His heart quickened in his chest, and sweaty dew formed that turned the skin where his brows met slightly cooler.
I bet there’s light behind it, murderer. I want to see you dead, crawling for mercy, like the worm you are.
He unfastened the bolts securing the basement and opened the door no more than a crack. He put the lighter in his mouth, took the mirror fragment out of his back pocket, and peeked at the world beyond. It was night, and the hallway appeared empty.
He stepped outside and inhaled deeply. Behind him, a foul stench—sweat and excrement—wafted out of the basement. It was hard to ignore it now that fresh air coming through the smashed ground floor window touched his nose. The night’s chill swept through his crusty rags, and made the hairs on his body stand, as if they, too, hungered for it. He ran his hand across the wall. Paint flakes peeled off, and at places, the mortar between the bricks scraped his fingers. The wooden floorboards creaked and bent under his weight, and year-old broken glass crunched under his feet.
Moonlight barely outlined things. A curtain—no more than a rag, threadbare, dirt-stained—swayed from the shattered window ahead. A tilted picture frame remained nailed on the opposite wall, perhaps something the previous owners of the house found interesting.
When he reached the front door and turned the handle, a small laugh escaped him; there was no door in the world able to offer enough protection. From animals, perhaps. From Raiders, doubtful. From light? Starvation?
He closed the lighter’s lid and opened the door. The growl from near his feet and the pair of glimmering eyes startled him. “Hey. You’re not going to come at me again, are you?” he said. He swallowed, reached out his hand to ruffle the dog’s head, hesitated, and then scratched it behind the ears.
Its eyes remained nailed on John. That dog could have easily had him for dinner, and given its temper, that was probably what happened to its former master.
The dog sniffed John’s left leg, and John stopped petting it.
“You up for another round from last night’s fight, huh? I told you, you can’t have my leg, and I did apologize for disturbing you while you were gnawing on that bone. You know, it wouldn’t hurt you to share some of your food with me. Or at least stop seeing me as a walking meal.” He stood up. “So, another death-free sunshine for you, huh?” John coughed and wheezed as if he were trying to dislodge something from his lungs.
It’s you who should be dead, the condemning voice said, and chilled his bones.
About the Author:
Chris Sarantopoulos is a Greek writer who learned to communicate in English almost at the same time he started using his native language. He studied Geology in Scotland, then decided to diversify and completed a Master’s degree in Service Management. He almost started a PhD, but that didn’t work out. He enjoys writing science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic fiction and cyberpunk, but also fantasy and horror (not the splatter type though). Currently, he lives in Greece, and if you happen to spend time there, contact him. He may be able to arrange a meeting.
If you would like to know more about him, please visit his web page https://csarantopoulos.eu or follow him on Amazon, Twitter (@c_sarantopoulos), Pinterest, and Facebook. You can also find his book at other retailers.